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Helping the Grieving Student During the School Day

Teachers, as trusted adults in the lives of children, can play an important role in providing or finding the support a student needs after the death of a loved one.

Children who have experienced the death of a close family member or friend may have some common reactions for some time after the death:

  • Distractibility
  • Forgetfulness
  • Tearfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Lowered school performance

A recent study conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers and the New York Life Foundation (2012) indicated that nearly seven in ten teachers have a student in their class that lost someone close to them in the past year.

Facts About Children and Grief

  • Kids do grieve.
  • Kids grieve longer than you think they do.
  • While children may be "resilient" and find ways to manage their grief, it is often still affecting them.
  • Even when a student looks "OK," they may still need support.

There are many ways to help grieving students during the school day:

Photo or other object of comfort
Allowing a child to bring with them a photo of their loved one who died or other family member is an easy way to help the child feel comforted when they begin to feel upset. For younger children, a small stuffed animal or something that belonged to their loved one (e.g. Dad's watch, a necklace that belonged to Mom) can help keep their loved one close to them when they miss them.

Two boys

Allow phone calls
Giving the grieving student permission to "touch base" with family members throughout the day can help them manage many fears and anxieties felt after the death of a loved one. And when the tears threaten to start, there is something about the voice of someone you know loves you and cares about you that can soothe and comfort you like nothing else.

Provide a "grief pass"
Many students dread standing out or being seen as different. As grief can strike at unexpected times, creating a "grief pass" — a way to communicate their need to take a break without drawing attention to themselves — can be a real face-saver for the student who is suddenly overcome with tears. Also, providing occasional flexibility around assignments may give the student just the space they need to get back on track.

For more information about supporting a grieving student in the classroom, see our brochure, "The Grieving Child in the Classroom."

Be a resource to grieving students and their families

  • Brochures — Have information about the Caring Place on hand to distribute to students and their families as needed.
  • Website — Link the Highmark Caring Place logo and URL to the websites of your school and school district. For more information on how to do this, email us at
  • Information — Keep copies of educational information at school which you can recommend to families in need (the Highmark Caring Place can provide many educational brochures for grieving families as well as a list of recommended books and articles).